Speaking a Motherless Tongue: Translation as Decolonial Praxis in Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions

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Abstract

This article analyzes Valeria Luiselli’s translation and interpretation process as documented in her 2017 essay Tell Me How It Ends. I combine decolonial theory with the first-hand knowledge of translation theory and the praxis of interpretation professionals in the US to examine the humanitarian, trauma-related, affective, creative, political, and ethical challenges faced by immigration court interpreters. This study deepens the conversation about whether Indigenous undocumented immigrant children, as speakers of “motherless tongues,” can evoke their own stories of suffering and survival in the screening process used to evaluate eligibility to apply for legal status in the US. The analysis unfolds in three sections where it: (1) contextualizes the idea of the “motherless tongue” in relation to the silenced condition of children from countries with legacies of colonialism and US militarism; (2) examines Luiselli’s humanizing strategies that use translation to deter “legal violence”; and (3) presents a decolonial approach to translation, where the translator dismantles the violent logic behind the euphemisms used in migration law and contexts of war. Building on Luiselli’s experiences, I extend the analysis to community-based translation efforts led by professional Indigenous interpreters, pointing to the urgency of rethinking the role of translation and bilingualism in the construction of views on international migration outside academia and immigration law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-57
Number of pages24
JournalMiddle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author.

Keywords

  • asylum
  • court interpretation
  • decolonial praxis
  • migration
  • state-sanctioned violence
  • translation

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